Injury-plagued yokozuna Kisenosato confirmed Wednesday his decision to retire from sumo, making the announcement a day after suffering his third loss of the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament.
The news sent shock waves throughout the sumo world, once again leaving the sport without a Japan-born wrestler at the highest rank.
The 32-year-old Kisenosato, who went into the 15-day tournament at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan with his status in jeopardy, decided to call time on his wrestling career after posting an 0-3 record over the first three days of his 12th meet as a yokozuna.
With tears streaming down his face, the 32-year-old Ibaraki native lamented that he was unable to carry out his duties as one of the sport’s elite but said he leaves the ring without any regrets.
“Even though it’s very regrettable that I wasn’t able to live up to everyone’s expectations as a yokozuna, I don’t regret one bit of my career on the dohyo,” he said.
At age 30, Kisenosato was the 72nd and most recent wrestler to reach sumo’s highest rank, and became the first Japan-born fighter to be promoted to yokozuna since Wakanohana in 1998.
But injuries to his chest, left arm and shoulder plagued Kisenosato throughout his reign atop the rankings, and he only completed two of the 12 grand tournaments held during his time as a yokozuna.
He temporarily fended off talk of his retirement last September when he went the distance at the Autumn meet, finishing the tournament with a 10-5 record as fellow yokozuna Hakuho collected a record-extending 41st makuuchi division title.
But less than two months after losing four straight bouts at the Kyushu meet — the most consecutive opening losses by a yokozuna in 87 years — Kisenosato suffered his third straight defeat at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament on Tuesday, cementing the doubts over his ability that had built up over the past two years.
“I had practiced and gotten in shape before the tournament,” Kisenosato said. “I had a feeling inside like ‘this is do or die’ and I trained well. The result of that came in the form of three losses from opening day, and I don’t have a single regret.”
Not counting forfeits, it was his eighth straight loss since September, the worst run for a yokozuna since the 15-day grand tournament format began in 1949.
“Since the injury, I was confident that I was doing the best I could. I wrestled with everything I had in the world,” he said. “But I felt for the first time that I was unable to go on.”
His departure leaves Hakuho and Kakuryu standing at the zenith of a sport reeling in the wake of violence and scandals, while sumo’s younger wrestlers are looking to fill in the gaps.
“It’s lonely now. I’ve run out of words to express my appreciation for his efforts,” Hakuho said upon learning of his fellow yokozuna’s retirement.
As a rank-and-filer, Kisenosato earned three “kinboshi” prizes for defeating a yokozuna. Over 101 tournaments, Kisenosato recorded 800 wins and 496 losses, and his 714 wins in the top division are the sixth best in the sport’s history.